Monday, April 27, 2015

Melodifestivalen 2015 - Andra Chansen, Helsingborg 07.03.15

By the time 7th March came around, Super Saturdays were almost over.  With only the UK's big reveal later in the evening to get excited about, I thought I'd break the habits of a lifetime and watch Andra Chansen live this year for a change.  In recent years I have never really liked Andra Chansen because of those dreaded duels which just went on, and on, and on.  There was a slight change in the rules this year; yes there were duels, but only one round of duels, with four songs going through to the final.

Duel 1: "Bring Out The Fire" - Andreas Weise vs "Forever Starts Today" - Linus Svenning.

I've never been a fan of Andreas since he was in Swedish Idol a few years ago - he's a bit too fame-hungry for my tastes.  "Bring Out The Fire" was a hybrid of "Let Me Entertain You" and John Newman's "Love Me Again" and just didn't have enough appeal in its own right for me.

Mum is perturbed by Linus' outfit,  I explain to her that he was in Melodifestivalen last year, but this is a more uptempo song and I prefer it to his song from last year.

Following the first duel, we have the Eurovision medley which was later criticised as a cheap cop-out by many within the fan community.  Yes it was a bit more low-budget than you'd expect from Melfest, but it was quite good fun and Sanna made a great Celine Dion.

Duel 2: " Guld Och Grona Skogar" - Hasse Andersson vs "I See You" - Kristin Amparo. 

Mum on Hasse: Oh God!! 
She wasn't too thrilled by Hasse or his song at first, but as it went on she was bobbing her head enthusiastically.  I think this one is going to have the same effect on her as the schlager supergroup Ravaillacz from a couple of years ago and by the time of the final she is probably going to love it. 

"I See You" is a bit of a yawnfest for me, I'm afraid.  Kristin is much, much better than the song and deserves something worthy of her talents than this Kempe co-write.

Results: Linus and Hasse are in the final.  Not really a surprise result.  Although I hope Kristin will come back again in a year or two with a more effective song.  I loved her vocals on "Din Soldat" and would appreciate something more uptempo from her, although I'm guessing that if she was to return it would be in similar style to Sarah Dawn Finer, with another big ballad.

Loreen has been sat beside Jon Ola Sand all night. But she finally breaks free to take to the stage with her new song, "Paperlight".  I know I'm probably going to upset about 99% of the Loreen/Melfest fandom but I don't like this song.  It's a scream fest.  Call it "extreme Euphoria" but lacking the ingredients which made that song so great.  Some controversy too as she is topless and only covered by her cascading hair. Its a good job that mum has dozed off by now or she would have a lot to say about this.

But back to the duels.....

Duel 3: "Hello Hi" - Dolly Style vs "Make Me (La La La)" - Dinah Nah.

This is the duel of pop death...and pink hair!
Since Dolly Style and their wonderful wigs came into our lives in week 1, this bloody song is now wedged in my brain, and mum's decided that she wants a Dolly Style wig. 

Mum - " are they singing I'm a Wally?"
She then decides she doesn't want to talk about the song, and just wants to talk about the wigs. 

Dinah Nah still facially reminds me of Crown Princess Victoria.  If Crown Princess Victoria had pink hair, of course, and if she gave up whatever royals do to go into a song contest with a pop-dance banger like this.  

By the way, I'm enjoying Robin and Sanna as presenters.  They are a slick duo and look good on screen together, but - oh no - here comes "Filippa Bark" to spoil the party.  Filippa is a comedy creation and is both loved and hated, But over the past couple of weeks the hate appears to have overtaken the love, and her contribution has been reduced in AC.  But she is finally back to sing "Don't Compete In Musik".  My problem with her is more to do with my limited understanding of the Swedish language, and I don't really understand the character's style of humour. 

Duel 4: "Det rår vi inte för" - Behrang Miri featuring Victor Crone vs "Groupie" - Samir and Viktor.

It's the battle of the Victor/Viktors.  But I will only offer two very shallow words here: Victor Crone. This song has a stellar songwriting line-up: Behrang has co-written it with Albin Johnsén, Måns Zelmerlöw and Tony Nilsson.  For what I can only assume is a vote-grabbing gimmick, they have enlisted Malena Ernman for a guest appearance in Andra Chansen, lending some operatic backing vocals.  But it's a bit of a waste of time if I'm honest, and adds nothing to the song.  However, I hope Victor will come back to the contest again!

It's a foregone conclusion that Behrang and Victor's days are numbered before the voting even begins as they are matched against tabloid fodder Samir and Viktor, with "Groupie".  Isn't it reassuring to see that Sweden has its own breed of 'stars' who are famous, well, for being famous, in similar style to all those awful 'TOWIE'-type people.  "Groupie" is intensely irritating, but it wouldn't be the first time that such an irritating song would end up working its way into my brain, uninvited.  

There's a quick preview of next week's finalists who have all gone direkt till Friends and this is followed by a 'duet' between Sanna and Monica Zetterlund, thanks to the wonders of technology, on "En gång i Stockholm", Monica's winning song from Melfest 1963. The final results are announced.  It's a 'nah' for Dolly Style, but it's a (Dinah) Nah to the final.  She will be joined there by Samir and Viktor who already seemed to know that they'd won.  They have certainly won the EuropeCrazy prize for most effective use of oj-oj-oj in a song not heard since the days of a certain Mr Ranelid....

Tune in for the next instalment - yes, it's the final.  And one big, crucial question....."what's the meaning of Stonehenge?"

Melodifestivalen 2015: a look back

For the first time in many years, I didn't watch the Melodifestivalen heats live this year - choosing to watch some other national finals on Saturday nights instead! - however I thought I'd just take a very brief look back at the Swedish 2015 national selection.

Heat 1 - Gothenburg 07.02.2015  a.k.a. 'the one with the wonky app'

1. "I'll Be Fine" – Molly Pettersson Hammar
2. "Pappa" – Daniel Gildenlöw
3. "One By One" – Elize Ryd and Rickard Söderberg
4. "Hello Hi" – Dolly Style
5. "Det rår vi inte för" – Behrang Miri feat. Victor Crone
6. "Can't Hurt Me Now" – Jessica Andersson
7. "Sting" – Eric Saade

Week one turned out to be a pretty disappointing selection.  There was one foregone conclusion (Eric Saade to the final); one surprise (the success of Hello Hi) and there was one wonky app.  SVT in all its wisdom decided to introduce a voting app, but there were big problems with it.  Despite a strong performance, former Swedish Idol contestant Molly failed to even make it to Andra Chansen - and her failure was attributed to that app. I was happy to see Behrang and Victor's song progress to Andra Chansen - Behrang co-wrote this song with a certain Måns Zelmerlöw (more about him later), as well as Albin of "Din Soldat" fame, and Tony Nilsson. Jessica made it to the final, however IMHO she's had much better songs in this competition and this is probably my least favourite of them.  

But back to "Sting": at the time of the first semi-final, I completely hated this song and quite frankly thought it was "gonna stink soooo bad....."  I would change my mind later on though.

Heat 2 -Malmö 14.02.2015 a.k.a. 'the one with Magnus' triumphant return'

1. "Forever Starts Today" – Linus Svenning
2. "Där och då med dig" – Emelie Irewald
3. "Groupie" – Samir and Viktor
4. "If I Was God For One Day" – Neverstore
5. "Nonetheless" – Marie Bergman and Sanne Salomonsen
6. "Möt mig i Gamla Stan" – Magnus Carlsson
7. "Don't Stop Believing" – Mariette

What did we learn from week 2?  Well, we learned that Linus can do uptempo Avicii-lite, even if he hasn't shaken off the dodgy dress sense. We learned that televoters still love their tabloid favourites Samir and Viktor.  We learned that Sweden does still love its schlager after all, with a delightful result for the returning Magnus Carlsson.  We learned that no.2 in the running order is probably never going to deliver a qualifier.  And we learned that Mariette became a serious contender to win Melfest, with her dramatic and powerful performance of "Don't Stop Believing".

Heat 3 - Östersund 21.02.15 a.k.a. "it's all about that joik, 'bout that joik"

1. "Insomnia" – Ellen Benediktson
2. "För din skull" – Kalle Johansson
3. "Bring Out the Fire" – Andreas Weise
4. "Living to Die" – Andreas Johnson
5. "Don't Stop" – Isa
6. "I See You" – Kristin Amparo
7. "Jag är fri (Manne Leam Frijje)" – Jon Henrik Fjällgren

So, Melodifestivalen veteran Andreas never even made it to Andra Chansen - will we ever see him back here again?  Isa with her 'Shake It Off'-inspired pop song had an impressive debut but week 3 was all about the joik. Jon Henrik's song failed to resonate with me, and I thought the staging was pretty ridiculous too.  Oh, and wonderful Kristin Amparo deserved a better song, and I would hope to see her back in a year or two with either a big uptempo "Din Soldat"-style banger, or a smashing big ballad.

Heat 4, Örebro 28.02.15 a.k.a. 'what do you mean Midnight Boy didn't qualify?'

1. "Don't Say No" – Midnight Boy
2. "Black Swan" – Caroline Wennergren
3. "Building It Up" – JTR
4. "Guld och gröna skogar" – Hasse Andersson
5. "Make Me (La La La)" – Dinah Nah
6. "Ett andetag" – Annika Herlitz
7. "Heroes" – Måns Zelmerlöw

The final group of songs in this year's contest delivered an absolutely terrific 80s Dead or Alive-style stomper.  "Don't Say No" turned out to be this year's "Red" - a non-qualifier which will become one of my favourite songs of the year. JTR went direkt till Friends *but it should have been Midnight Boy!!!*

Much was expected from the last song in the last heat.  What we hadn't expected though was the stunning visual effects accompanying "Heroes".  Aww, those little stick men were just so cute (and Måns wasn't too bad either in his leather trousers...!)  Of course in the weeks that followed, the final chapter of the Melodifestivalen story for 2015 would be written.

Notes from National Finals: Söngvakeppnin 2015, Iceland

It goes without saying that Söngvakeppnin is always one of my favourite national finals every year. But I'll say it anyway.

After a couple of semi-finals, it was time for this year's Icelandic national final on 14th February. Valentine's Day! But why spend the evening paying over the odds to go out with your loved one to an overpriced restaurant surrounded by boring loved up happy couples.  When you could spend the evening with the other great love of your life - national finals season!!  This was another Super Saturday with heats and semi-finals a go-go but I was saving my evening for the Icelandic final and the last night of Sanremo, which I've covered in a separate post.

But something was not right with the Icelandic final.  Something was missing...that restful little howl which we know and love.


The show began with a celebration of last year's winner, Enga fordóma, and the arrival of this year's finalists.  Following a short feature on the 'Pönk, it became clear that we would probably not see anything as quirky as them in the 2015 final.

One major change this year was a bizarre rule change which meant that if the winner chose to sing in English at Eurovision, then their song must also be in English in the national final.  I'm not sure if this applied just to Iceland or was it a general rule change?  Five of the finalists must have thought they were in with a chance as they changed their songs to English.  One of these was the pop trio Cadem - I rather liked them and thought of them as an enthusiastic Icelandic 'Alcazar-teens'.  This does have Melodifestivalen written all over it, and appropriately the whole feel of "Fly" is more scraped-through-to-Andra-Chansen than serious contender.

Sunday also chose to sing in English. Out went Fjaðrir and in came "Feathers" but it was still the coolest thing in the contest.  A Margaret Berger level of cool,  But I knew it wouldn't be enough. This song cried out for some major, massive staging, but the small venue failed it.

Björn and Friends were not only defiantly dated beyond belief, but they were uncompromising with it.  So no English translation for "Piltur og stúlka".  I checked my calendar to see that I hadn't time-travelled back to the 1980s.  They were good singers though, it has to be said.

Generic manic pixie Disney princess/prom queen alert. Maria Ólafsdóttir is a very pleasant and pretty young woman, and this is a rather cynical attempt to please. Barefoot. Unnecessary background dancing. This sounds like the kind of song which used to soundtrack teen dramas like Dawson's Creek. She has a similar natural look to Emmelie de Forest. Unbroken is a generic mid tempo number with shades of Uncover by Zara Larsson. This is in the vein of the safe entries which seem to go down well at ESC these days.

Followed by another pleasant but less-than-manic young woman. Elin Sif who also thinks she's got a chance at it as her song is translated to "Dance Slow". She wrote this herself. Its far too sickly sweet for me. Far far too sugary sweet.

Friðrik Dór reminds me a little of an Icelandic version of Erik Segerstedt with enhanced eyebrows. Extra points for "Divine" being played in the postcard.  It does have a memorable tune although the staging with the girl fans at the end of the catwalk annoys me and its embarrassing. It was a welcome change from the manic pixie girls though and although this could be any boyband-on-stools type ballad from any time in the past 20 years, he sings it very well.

The beard quota is fulfilled with nice beardy doctor bloke Haukur Heiðar Hauksson wearing what looks like leftover uniforms from the Belarus army band.  "Milljon Augnablik".  This song will get a post contest life on my iPod. But what about the interval act?

Well, it's only an all male interval act including Fridrik Omar and the wonderful Magni Asgeirsson (yes I do still miss him at Söngvakeppnin) who is going to appear in Jesus Christ Superstar with none other than Eythor Ingi, better known at EuropeCrazy HQ as "the egg a leaf guy" in the leading role.

It's Friðrik and Maria to the super final. Safe versus safe. What happened to that Icelandic 'edge' this year?  Maria wins.

Mum: why is (Maria) wandering around looking for her shoes?
Mum has spoken, she doesn't like Unbroken.  And neither do I really, if I'm honest.  In recent years Iceland has given us disco bangers, sweet, daft or anthemic pop songs and epic swooping ballads, which have all been wonderful in their own way.  Unbroken is none of these.  It's bland, and safe, and dull, and it would only have gone up in my estimations if it had stayed in Icelandic.  Iceland usually have an automatic pass to my favourite songs list in any Eurovision year.  Sorry Maria, but you're crossed off my list this year.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Notes from National Finals: Eesti Laul 2015, Estonia

Saturday 21st February. Another Super Saturday, and another national final. The most "indie" of national finals started, as is now the tradition, with a performance of the previous year's winner.  And although I was no fan of Tanja's "Euphoria" oops I mean "Amazing", I was quite impressed with the sax-tastic remix/makeover of the song, which I thought was a vast improvement on the original. Maybe if they'd have sent this version last year I would have had a more favourable view of it. 

The acts were introduced, with big cheers for favourites Elina and Stig who have already topped the Estonian singles chart.  By the way, it's good to see that they are still using the instrumental section of Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up" as background music whilst the presenters were talking.  And then you have the postcards where they sing the artist name and song title. All of these add up to Eesti Laul being one of Europe's coolest national finals.  So let's get on with the songs!

Welcome to Estonia, where they have an endless conveyor belt of women with spectacular long shiny hair. Luisa performs song 1,"Minu päike" sitting on a swing and then she and her backing singers take turns to play on the climbing frame. Childish and twee yes but its not the worst.  You see, that's where Eesti Laul differs from Melodifestivalen: it's smaller but less calculated, less ruthless, more 'real'.

Song 2 is by Maia Vahtramäe.  "Üle vesihalli taeva" is pretty forgettable. It may be sung by yet another Estonian woman with fabulous hair but the song is as dull as her dress.

I don't really understand the postcards this year "Alasti tõde" but I am reliably informed on Twitter that it was pretty funny. It's not a patch on the Estonian clowns though!!

Song 3 is the night's big favourite "Goodbye to Yesterday" sung by Elina Born and Stig Rästa. It's in black and white but the staging is slightly different from in the semi final. But where's Elina? All together now, "she's behind you!" Not sure about the white shirt and big cummerbund but I suppose it matches the feel of the song. Vocally it's ok and I can't really see anything overtaking it.

Song 4 is "Idiot" by the Kali Briis Band. Well I really like this and they look as if they are having great fun. Love their wacky shirts. I think I might listen to this after the contest is over although it doesn't have Eurovision appeal. But it does include the cracking line "In my opinion you're just an idiot".

Song 5 is "Troubles" by Robin Juhkental and the Big Bangers. This is very different from "Siren" although he uses a similar camera technique. Imagine big band meets indie and that's somewhere near this.

Song 6 is sung by Daniel Levi - I wondered why the French singer who had a massive hit a few years ago with "L'envie d'aimer" was doing in Eesti Laul.  But it's not that one.  Well hello Estonian version of Daniel Levi, nobody told me you were this cute! "Burning Lights" is in with a good chance then he completely seals it with a stage dive and a bit of crowd surfing.

What I notice in this final is that everyone looks as if they're enjoying the experience. I can only watch and envy this, imagine a UK ESC final like this. No you can't, because that's an experience we are denied.

The 7th song is "Superlove" by Elisa Kolk aka the one which doesn't sound indie. Really hoping this doesn't win as right now we have too many interchangeable brunettes already. The song is OK but not my favourite.

The Blurry Lane look like an Estonian version of the Corrs but don't really have much else going for them. The song Exceptional certainly doesn't live up to its title.

Next up is my other favourite finalist, "Unriddle Me" by the brilliantly-named Elephants from Neptune is just great and again I will be listening to this long after Eesti Laul is over.

Unlike "This is Our Choice" by Triin Niitoja and John 4. It's certainly more commercial but a bit too 'Eurovisiony' and given Estonia's left-field reputation it would be a serious cop-out if Estonia was to send this.

The juries send "Goodbye to Yesterday", "Burning Lights" and "Superlove" (what, no "Unriddle Me"????)  to the superfinal, and it's "GTY" which is a resounding winner with 79% of the televote.

I'm delighted with this result as the song is one of the best to come out of national finals season in 2015 and is way better than any of the indistinguishable mid-tempo/ballads sung by interchangeable brunettes. I'm guessing though that the staging remains a work in progress until Vienna and then it will be make or break. If they get it right I'm predicting a definite top 10 place for Stig and Elina.

Notes from National Finals: Sanremo 2015

Although I had previously caught some of the Sanremo final in 2013, I think it was, I had never watched the 5 night bonanza before.  But all that was about to change this year.

Sanremo is of course the daddy of all song contests; it predated and inspired the Eurovision Song Contest.  For those of us who love Festivali i Kenges because it still has that sense of 'old Eurovision' with the orchestra and conductors, then Sanremo is also a must-see.  There are no badly translated songs in English here either: it's native language all the way.  And as languages go, Italian is probably the most musical of all.

I was impressed by this year's team of presenters, although as I have virtually no knowledge of the Italian language I can only go on the professionalism which came across - I believe though that there were a few gaffes, according to some coverage on the internet.  This year, Carlo Conti was accompanied by last year's winner Arisa, and last year's ESC representative Emma Marrone.  I thought Emma did very well and all those fancy gowns showed off another side of the 'rock chick'. As for Arisa, I found her speaking voice quite irritating.

It took me a while to understand how the two competitions worked at Sanremo.  A couple of years ago, Antonio Maggio won the newcomers category with "Mi Servirebbe Sapere"and I couldn't understand why he was not allowed to either compete in the final night's contest or indeed represent Italy at Eurovision.  But some research later, I know all the rules and this helped me to understand the contest better.  So we have the 'nuove proposti' (newcomers/young artists) section, which runs alongside the 'campioni' (big artists) over 5 nights of Italian music and mayhem.  Sanremo has been responsible for launching the careers of Eros Ramazzotti, Laura Pausini and Andrea Bocelli, and this year's winner of the 'nuove proposti' was Giovanni Caccamo with "Ritornero da te".  I like this song a lot, and hopefully we'll hear more from him.  It was certainly a very successful year as he also wrote Malika Ayane's lovely ballad "Adesso e qui" which ended in 3rd place in the 'Big Artists' category.

This year's line-up boasted some big names: Raf - yes, the Raf of Gente di Mare/Self Control fame. But fame doesn't guarantee success, and he failed to make it to the 'Big Artists' final night.  Nina Zilli also returned but made less impact this time round.

It became very apparent very quickly that Sanremo 2015 was going to be about one artist only for me.  I had become a Nek fan in the early 2000s ironically not through his Italian-language music, but his Spanish-language recordings.  On my first trip to Barcelona in 2001 I bought his "Las Cosas Que Defendere" album and was hooked.  However as the years went on I 'lost' Nek so it was good to find him again.  And do you know what?  It was worth the wait.

"Fatti Avanti Amore" marked Nek's return to Sanremo and in a generally 'meh' national finals season (for me anyway, sorry) it had something which was lacking in many of the entries chosen to date.  It was punchy, lively and dynamic.  However I was realistic enough to know that if Nek won Sanremo he would probably not compete at ESC so I just accepted this and enjoyed his performance for what it was.

There were two very strong contenders sung by female artists: "Una finestra tra le stelle" by Annalisa and "Straordinario"by Chiara, and I thought earlier in the week that one of these might win.  But it was Malika Ayane's low-key, soulful ballad "Adesso e Qui" which impressed me, and it also impressed the juries and televoters

Meanwhile the three young men who make up Il Volo (or Il Divo Juniors if you prefer!!) had also grabbed my attention.  They impressed me a lot with their vocal prowess on "Grande Amore".  I had come to terms with the possibility of Nek not winning, and decided that I would be very happy with this winning Sanremo.

And so it came to pass.  When the juries and televoting totals were added together, "Grande Amore was the big winner, with "Fatti Avanti Amore" in 2nd place and "Adesso e Qui" 3rd.

It had been a very long night, thanks to that Icelandic final followed by the epic final night of Sanremo.  By the time it was all over it was late and I felt emotionally exhausted but happy that I had not only survived my whole Sanremo experience, but that it had given us a worthy winner.

We didn't have to wait too long for confirmation that, yes, Il Volo would in fact represent Italy at this year's Eurovision Song Contest.  "Grande Amore" has gone on to become one of my favourite ESC entries this year.  

And Sanremo?  Well yes, it's overlong, yes there are far too many stops and starts and random special guests and interviews along the way, but it's a true event which is a must-see if you love Italian language music and want to discover new and established artists.  I'll be watching it again next year!

Notes from National Finals: Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, Denmark

February 7th arrived, the first of the 'Super Saturdays' with a number of heats and semi-finals going on all over Europe.  However I had made my decision.  After making the horrible mistake of missing last year's DMGP final, I made sure that this was going to be my main viewing choice this time round.

Laptop wired up to the TV (this was in the days before I finally got my Chromecast to work) and I even persuaded my mum to watch some of this.  However she was quite bamboozled by the sound of the Danish language spoken by presenters Esben Bjerre and Jacob Riising!

DMGP is a one night only contest, which is a rarity in a time of never-ending heats and semi-finals. But would it be all killer and no filler?  Not quite, but you're always guaranteed that DR will put on a good show on a grand scale.  This year's host venue was the appropriately named Gigantium in Aalborg.

But would the songs be as gigantic in quality?

1. "Love Me Love Me" - Sara Sukurani

A lively Eastern-flavoured opener, co-written by Arash, Unfortunately the song is just too generic - "My Number One" and all its copies all thrown into a great big blender and this came out.  Sara is an enthusiastic performer but her orange and grey dress does her no favours, and could they not have chosen another colour instead of grey for the backing dancers' outfits?

2.  "Mi Amore" - Tina and Rene.

And in a moment like this (!) it's time for Tina and Rene.

Mum: This is more like it.
Laura: Unfortunately it's also more like another song which represented Denmark 5 years ago.
M: If they sent the same song do you think anyone would notice the difference?
L: We fans would!  Have to say I actually prefer this song to In a Moment Like This.

3.  "Nar Vejde Kryses" - Marcel and Soulman Group.

Firstly, I'm glad to finally hear a song in the Danish language.  Marcel certainly has an interesting style, but he is probably better than the song, which probably belongs to the "Love Power"/"Even If" school of "let's do a funky/soulful song for Eurovision".  This song doesn't really go anywhere. Next!

4.  "Hotel A" - Cecilie Alexandra.

I'm feeling a Joe le Taxi vibe from this.  Crikey, there's even an accordion solo. It's all just too sweet and twee and a bit of a cynical attempt to do well.  Written by Swedes.

M: Sometimes something simple works best.
L: I just think it's too lightweight, too flimsy, to work at Eurovision.  And a bit too desperate to please voters.

Trine Jepsen then makes an appearance, and I didn't even recognise her.  Meanwhile mum has developed an obsession with Jacob's collar: she thinks it's far too tight.  She also thinks the postcards are too long!

5. "Love is Love" - Andy Roda.

Never thought much of this from the pre-show clips, but for some strange reason it seemed to click with me.  And there was even an undressing dancer gimmick.  It's not great, but it's ok. Mum is getting a bit restless though.

M: Has this programme got long to go?

Rene swallows an egg.  As you do.  But not even this can distract my mum from the real pressing issue of the evening.  Jacob's collar, to be precise.

6. "Tæt på mine drømme" - Julie Bjerre.

Julie is so youthful that she looks as if she belongs in Junior ESC, but she brings a welcome freshness and enthusiasm to the evening with her light and summery pop song. This was very nice.

7.  "The Way You Are" - Anti Social Media.

For a band with a name like Anti Social Media you'd expect them to look a bit edgy.  They look anything but.  The song is catchy but safe.  Mum's delivered her verdict.

M: He looks so square.  Like one of those singers who was around before rock n'roll came along.
L: I think they might want to be the Beatles.  I find him quite annoying to look at.  This song sounds like something McFly might do.

8. "Suitcase" - Anne Gadegaard.

This seems to be one of the pre-contest favourites.  No dancers or backing singers, Anne is accompanied by a solo guitarist sitting on the 'suitcase' of the song's title.

She has a very nice voice and the song is quite sweet, although maybe a little too lightweight. Nevertheless I could see this one working on a Eurovision stage.

9.  "Manjana" - Babou.

This is quite an agreeable boybandish tune, and mum is quite taken with it.
M: This is lively! (nodding head) Manjana! Manjana!
L: It sounds like something else.
M: I like this,

10.  "Summer Without You" - World of Girls

Yes, it's a country-pop hybrid, and to labour the point the girls are dressed in check shirts for this Avicii-influenced number. Their performance is a bit of a let-down.  There is a fake ending.  I expected a much slicker performance of this, but it fell short of my expectations.

Mum quotes the lyrics disapprovingly.
L: It's a no from me.

So that's it for the songs.

Songs over, recap time, and a visit to Vienna by the two presenters.

During the recap, mum decides that Mi Amore has a good chance as it is "more Eurovision" than some of the other songs.

The jury voting is dispatched very quickly.  The jury spokespersons are some very familiar faces.  By the way it was nice to see the lovely Tim Schou again!  I wonder if he would ever return to DMGP as a solo artist in the future?

I really can't be doing with children singing on stage, and this seems to be some kind of DMGP Junior anthem thing, I don't know, my mind is wandering.  We also get a very welcome performance by last year's DMGP winner Basim.  But Basim aside, DR seem to have totally neglected the concept of a quality interval act.  I guess DR had no money left after putting on tonight's extravaganza?

So on to the big finale: the result of the televote.  Despite "Suitcase" winning the televote, the total points gathered are not enough to defeat Anti Social Media, who will represent Denmark in Vienna with "The Way You Are".  It's a catchy pop song a la McFly, but unfortunately it doesn't have that something special.  The song is just too safe and bland.  As for the band, their singer looks like a posh schoolboy and the whole staging of this needs some serious restyling if they're to make the final.

M: This song is too repetitive.  And he looks like a....librarian.  

(If any librarians are reading this, I would sincerely like to apologise).

Notes from National Finals: Festivali i Këngës 53, Albania

In line with the months which preceded it, Christmas 2014 was rotten.  I spent most of it suffering from a horrible cold/virus which didn't go away for ages.  The TV was awful.  I needed something to cheer me up on Sunday 28th December as I was going back to work the following day.  So what better than the Albanian national final?

Strictly speaking of course, Festivali i Këngës (or FiK as I'll refer to it from now on) isn't really a national final.  For the uninitiated, the Albanian national song contest existed long before the country started competing at ESC.  FiK has a turbulent history with its darkest time following the 11th final in 1972: however these days no-one is killed or imprisoned if their song lyrics fall foul of the authorities.

My first FiK experience was in 2012.  Watching the show for the first time I was bowled over by the "old Eurovision" feel, with the orchestra and the different conductors.  It was like a real blast from the past.  Then there is also the "different sound" of Albanian music, which maybe doesn't have the hooks or song structures we are used to.  Add to that the strangeness of the Albanian language and the utter joy of those ad breaks and I was completely hooked!  I managed to see two nights of the 2013 FiK so was determined when it came around again that I would be there for all three nights. FiK always takes place around Christmas time and 2014 was no different: I welcomed the break from the usual bad TV and it was just great to hang out on Twitter with everyone else who was watching FiK of course!

There seems to be a trend of doing away with much-loved theme tunes (hello Iceland) but you will be glad to hear that the legendary FiK theme is still around.  Here's the FiK 53 opening titles....

FiK 53 had a new male host - out went Enkel Demi and in came Turjan Hyska, who soon won me over.  You can always expect lots of glamorous frocks to blow TVSH's budget, and so it was again this time round for his co-hosts Liberta Spahiu and Floriana Garo.  The remaining money in the TVSH budget this year went on buying those very pricey Beats headphones for the RTSH orchestra. No, actually they must have had a bigger budget this year - that stage (pictured below) was dazzling and quite spectacular, wasn't it!

The greatest thing about FiK - it's 100% Albanian - all songs must be in the native language and all composers/artists must be of Albanian origin too.  It remains, along with Sanremo, one of the finest old-school song contests and completely uncompromising.  But that just makes us love it more!

There was a large number of returning performers this year.  Thankfully RTSH dropped the stupid duets from last year and just went with nights 1 and 2 purely focused on this year's entries, before the final on Sunday 28th December.  Which turned out to be a very long night!! But a very enjoyable one.  I must mention the ad breaks.  There are lots of them, with the same ads repeated over and over again.  And one very entertaining ad with chickens on a treadmill (!!).  If you want to get the most out of your FiK experience, you must embrace the ads :))  By the way, FiK 53 is available to watch all over again at (go to the Web TV section which lists all national finals available to watch).

My pre-contest favourite was Rezarta Smaja, competing for her third year in a row.  I loved "Ti....", didn't like last year's song as much (although it was ok), but completely loved "Me Rrëmbe" on first hearing.  This song would not work as an ESC entry - it's probably too 'old-fashioned' but I still continue to play it to this day.  I love everything about it, from the ethnic intro to the live orchestra to Rezarta, well, just being Rezarta, although she does run out of steam at the end of the song.

When I am not listening to that song, I'm probably listening to "S'te fal" which threatened to drag FiK kicking and screaming into the modern age. They'd probably never seen anyone like Linda 'Lindita' Halimi at FiK before, strutting her feisty stuff all over the stage like an Albanian Beyonce (I nicknamed her "Albeyonce"!) . She was fierce and fabulous, and probably too much for the traditionalists, but we had some Twitter fandom going for her on the night of the final and I was particularly delighted that she read and retweeted my tweet, so she will always be in my hall of fame. Hope to see you back again at FiK some day Linda!

One of the best things about FiK is that most (all?) of the songs don't pretend to aspire to be Eurovision entries. The offbeat orchestrated jazz of Jozefina Simoni's "Mendje Trazi" would have no chance at Eurovision, but for some reason I rather liked it.

The final featured a number of talented female singers, many of whom had come through the talent show process.  One of them even won a talent show in Italy.  But more about her later...

As for the guys, where would FiK be without a bit of Rock! As if Altin Goci's song (never sing a rock song where the word rock is repeated endlessly) wasn't enough, we were treated to FiK repeat offender Bojken Lako with his tortured rock number "Të ndjej".  But for a few of us on Twitter, our main man was not one of the singers but one of the conductors. FiK wouldn't be FiK without Gridi Kraja :))

In their semi-final, Offchestra had impressed me with "Bajram". It's like an Albanian variant of "Alcohol Is Free" but failed to make it out of the semi-final.  Nevertheless they did get to perform it again on the final as the song won an award.

The interval act included Aurela Gace paying an emotional tribute to Dr Flori, who recently passed away, aged 35 years old.  Dr Flori was a famous songwriter and producer and was responsible for many FiK songs including Rezarta's song this year and also my all-time favourite Albanian ESC entry Zharr e Ftohtë.

There was one particular female artist who got a lot of attention before she even stepped on the Tirana stage.  Elhaida Dani had not only competed in various Albanian talent contests but had gone a step further and competed in - and won - the Italian version of The Voice.  In the final, Elhaida swapped her plain black frock of night 2 to a glittery red gown (and a bad hair day!) to perform "Diell" in the final.  Whilst Elhaida had world-class vocal diva quality, unfortunately the same could not be said for the song, one of the most forgettable of the evening, nothing more than a vocal workout for Ms Dani.  Although it could have been worse: sorry Bojken Lako fans, but just imagine....

Despite Diell being a non-song, that didn't stop the jurors (which this year included Rona Nishliu) showering the song with top marks.  Elhaida was a runaway winner, with Bojken Lako Band in 2nd place and Lindita 3rd - she should have won! As for Rezarta, she came 7th out of 18 entries so didn't do too badly.

It's (not) the same old song.....

Whilst Elhaida's vocal talent was acknowledged and acclaimed within the fan community, the same could not be said for Diell.  The song was an unpopular choice with fans and its chances written off at an early stage.  And then in February came the shock announcement that this song was being replaced as Albania's ESC entry, seemingly 'withdrawn' by its composer, and replaced by a new song, "I'm Alive" written by Zzap and Chriss of "S'te fal" fame.  I was temporarily excited by this move, expecting something similar to "S'te fal" however it was not to be.  "I'm Alive" is certainly an improvement on "Diell" but it doesn't really float my particular musical boat. I'll write more about this song in my ESC preview post coming soon.  

In a calendar of national song contests, Festivali i Këngës is unusual, different and special, and is always a great way to start national finals season :)

Let the blog posts backlog begin!

You'll probably have noticed that I haven't been very active on this blog these past few months.  But I have been building up a very large backlog of posts and haven't really had the time or energy to finish them until now.

So I am finally going to (adopts deep booming movie-trailer voice) RELEASE THE BACKLOG!!!! Over the next few days I'll be posting as many of these as I can, starting with some Eurovision national final flashbacks.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: January-February 2015

This month I'm finally getting round to those long-overdue blog posts!

As someone once asked: "so why'd you wanna go and put stars in their eyes??"  ITV only went and revived a TV classic "STARS IN THEIR EYES" or should I say, a complete reboot: Stars In Their Eyes a.k.a. "tonight Harry, I'm going to be TV Burp".  I'm a big Harry Hill fan but even my patience was tested by the unfunny "Adele's baby" segment which was even worse than Wagbo.  Viewers switched off in droves, critics condemned it as the worst TV show of the year, and the original premise of the show - ordinary people impersonating famous singers - was sidelined as an afterthought.  Shame, really.  If you need a reminder of the glory days of the show, Challenge has been re-running some of the original series presented by Leslie Crowther.

"MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM" (Sky Movies) was a very impressive bio-pic of Nelson Mandela, from his early days as a lawyer through to his lengthy prison sentence.  The often disturbing scenes proved this to be more than just an average biopic.  An excellent performance by Idris Elba acting as Mandela through the ages.

In January, A number of documentaries commemorated the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, each and every one distressing but absolutely necessary.  It's the smallest of details which are often the most terrifying.  Apart from the documentaries I watched a landmark drama on BBC2, "THE EICHMANN SHOW" which focused on the efforts of two American TV producers/directors to televise the 1961 trial of one of history's most evil people, and bring the story of the Nazis' death camps to the world.  The darkest moments of this programme were unbearable beyond belief, but this drama was an outstanding piece of television, about an outstanding piece of television.  With anti-Semitism dand the extreme right on the rise across Europe, all of these programmes are very timely indeed.

I never watch daytime TV but was tipped off about a daytime docusoap which proved to be very interesting.  "OXFORD STREET REVEALED" (BBC1) looked at the retailers, the tube staff etc etc and I just wonder why this fast-moving show didn't get an evening slot when you think of all the celebrity rubbish etc. polluting our screens.

I wonder how ITV would survive if the TV authorities brought in a rule that there should be no more celebrity shows.  We would probably have to look at a blank screen every night.

That is of course when they're not showing "CORONATION STREET" which continues on the slippery slope.  The minibus crash was a pretty dire storyline and the show continues to focus on storylines about forgettable characters.  Where are the iconic characters of the present and future? This was brought into focus by the recent sad death of Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre Barlow, one of my favourite characters over the years.  She will be much missed.

There was a very high level of secrecy surrounding the long-awaited second series of "BROADCHURCH" (ITV).  Maybe that was just as well, as if we'd have known in advance how disappointing it would be....The only thing you needed to know about S2 is that you really had to watch series 1 to understand who everyone is, otherwise it could be a very confusing experience.  TV being TV, the backlash was inevitable (especially with those court scenes) and it wasn't long before it was being renamed "Boredchurch". The main problem for me was much of the storyline focusing on the hideous Lee and Claire, two new characters which the programme could clearly have done without.

I haven't read JK Rowling's "THE CASUAL VACANCY" so it was all new to me when it came to BBC1 as a 3-part drama serial.  Set in an idyllic English village, around a parish council election, all was not what it seemed, and there was a much darker side to events, with sympathetic characters in short supply. This series had its critics, however I liked it.  Guess I'll need to read the book now!

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: March 2015

It's been all about extremes this month.  Let's start with "THE BILLION POUND HOTEL" (Channel 4) a documentary about the now 15 year old Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai - which we all know better as "the one that looks like a big sail".  Never mind big sail, this one's all about the big bucks with the 'Royal Suite' which will cost you no less than £10,000 per night.  As with Richard E Grant's hotel series over on Sky Atlantic, it's interesting to get a glimpse of how the other half live but ultimately you feel rather dirty at the end of it all, when you are living in a country where food banks are now the rule rather than the exception.

One very sad aspect of economic doom and recession is a 21st century fixture on every high street, the ubiquitous pawn shop/money shop. "CASHING IN" (BBC Scotland) focused on two branches of Cash Converters.  Media reaction was pretty mixed, as is the case these days with any of these programmes about the grittier side of life in Scotland ("The Scheme" and "The Street" being previous examples) which the media often struggles to confront.  The nature of this business can leave a bad taste in the mouth, and in the hands of certain other channels I would have expected something in the style of those sensationalist "Romanian Immigrant Mother of Six on Benefits and Proud" documentaries cluttering the schedules of certain TV channels at the moment; these kinds of shows just have me reaching for the off button.  However this one stayed on the right side of humanity and explored some of the human stories behind those who rely on the pawn shops to scrape by.

Our local TV channel STV Glasgow has recently had a slight revamp of its schedule.  The most significant change is that the flagship magazine show "THE RIVERSIDE SHOW" has been cut to an hour every weeknight.  I think that's been a positive move: it's leaner, less bloated and although it's still a bit low-budget, two-couches-on-the-Clyde chat show fare (hosts David and Jennifer pictured above) but the filmed segments now seem to have more populist, topical appeal.  I was initially very critical of this show when it began last summer as much of the show just consisted of posh students trying to outdo each other's posh Kelvinside accents.  It's better now.  (No offence to posh Kelvinside students).  I haven't seen anything on STV Edinburgh yet, the latest 'local TV' channel however I'm guessing it'll be like STV Glasgow with different accents :)

I really enjoyed "TOM FELTON MEETS THE SUPERFANS" (BBC Three).  A very timely screening of a documentary about, yes, superfans, in the week when the One Direction dream began to unravel with Zayn Malik's departure, breaking millions of teenage hearts in the process.  In this documentary the former Harry Potter star explored the world of super fandom, with some initial puzzlement, and he also tried to understand the motivation for one of his own superfans, Tina.  It would have been very easy to take a cynical approach, but happily this turned out to be a warm and quite touching exploration of fandom, with a large dose of empathy sadly lacking in much of today's attempts at documentary making.

What's my favourite programme at the moment?  "30 DEGREES IN FEBRUARY" (Sky Arts) which is the latest Nordic import - an SVT drama from 2012 which sneaked on to the TV schedule without any fanfare.  The mean streets of a Swedish crime thriller are swapped for sunnier climes, Thailand to be precise, and there are three story strands about people looking for a new life in paradise, only for the dream to turn into a nightmare.  I don't know what kind of viewing figures this show is getting, but I'm totally hooked and it has engaged me from the start.

Unlike that much-hyped big bucks made-for-Sky drama "FORTITUDE" (Sky Atlantic).  I couldn't get into this show at all and didn't last beyond the first episode.

Fancy a decent biopic?  Look no further than "GOOD VIBRATIONS" (BBC2), which was a very interesting film based on the life of Terri Hooley, who was a key figure in the Belfast punk scene with his record shop and label which gave the movie its title.  They may not have had much commercial impact but their importance went beyond the charts and tried to unite both sides of the divide through music.  A very good film with an excellent performance by Richard Dormer in the lead role of the punk pioneer.

Finally, I couldn't go without mentioning series 2 of "THE MUSKETEERS" (BBC1) which has now ended.  Me being me, I have only just started watching the second series (bad fan!) but you won't be surprised to learn that I'm still hooked: swashbuckling fun - check! Luke Pasqualino and Santiago Cabrera - check!  Ohhh yesss.....welcome back Musketeers :)